Charles Leclerc, Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Shanghai International Circuit, 2019

Will Ferrari tell Leclerc to follow Vettel again… again? Azerbaijan GP talking points

2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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Charles Leclerc has been told to follow Sebastian Vettel in all three races so far this year. Surely Ferrari won’t make it four in a row at this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix?

Here are the talking points for the fourth round of this year’s world championship.

Vettel versus Leclerc

‘Will Ferrari dare tell Leclerc to follow Vettel again?’ we asked in the previous for the Chinese Grand Prix. ‘Of course they will’, came back the response, as for the third time in a row Leclerc was ordered to yield to Vettel.

This has created the preposterous situation where Ferrari’s decision that Vettel is the quicker of its two drivers is the only reason he’s ahead in the championship. Incredibly, the scoreline would be in Leclerc’s favour if he hadn’t been the only one of their two drivers to experience a technical failure so far, in Bahrain.

It’s clear Vettel hasn’t rekindled the love-at-first-sight relationship with the SF90 he enjoyed in pre-season testing. Will this be the weekend Vettel rediscovers his mojo? Will Leclerc, with so much capacity to improve so early in his carer, continue to pile on the pressure? The Ferraris alone could provide enough storylines for a single race weekend.

Ferrari’s missing speed advantage

Mercedes have been talking up Ferrari’s straight-line speed advantage, but they aren’t alone. Red Bull have too, and the speed trap figures show Ferrari have plenty of prancing horse-power. Yet so far they haven’t been able to consistently yield a lap time advantage.

That may change in Baku, which has some of the longest flat-out sections and highest top speeds on the calendar. If it doesn’t, and Ferrari leaves the opening quartet of flyaway races without a win, then their 2019 championship challenge is going to look badly compromised from the start, and questions may be asked about the fundamental design philosophy of their SF90.

Mercedes customers

Sergio Perez, Force India, Baku City Circuit, 2018
Perez has shone in Baku before
Racing Point (in their previous guise as Force India) have regularly achieved some of their best results of recent seasons at this track. Remarkably, Sergio Perez is the only driver to have finished on the podium more than once at Baku.

The team has had a sluggish start to its first championship since its off-season rebranding, partly due to its new car being conceived while the company was in administration in the middle of last season. However Perez has extracted some excellent results from the car, including a fine eighth (second ‘in class’) last time out in China, so watch out for more giant-killing.

Team mate Lance Stroll still needs to make it past Q1 for the first time this year. the venue where he scored his only podium finish to date, in 2017, should be a good place for him to do it.

Racing Point’s fellow Mercedes users Williams are suffering another horrendous year. The car is low on downforce but has a top class power unit, so they should be in better shape here, but realistically it’s unlikely to mean George Russell and Robert Kubica are able to fight with anyone other than themselves.

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Hulkenberg’s luck

Nico Hulkenberg has had some rotten luck of late. He drove a superb race in Australia (which, in retrospect, we should have praised more highly in Star Performers at the time) and was on course for another excellent result in Bahrain but retired.

The team identified an MGU-K problem, issued a fix – and he retired again in China. Renault’s reliability problems also hampered Hulkenberg’s qualifying effort in Bahrain.

Now he heads to Baku where he’s been the architect of his own downfall on his three previous visits. he spun during qualifying in 2016, missing Q3 as a result, while team mate Perez went on to grab a podium finish. In his last two visits he hit the wall. Can he master a track he’s struggled with in the past and overcome his lousy 2019 luck in the same weekend?

Payback for Bottas?

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Baku City Circuit, 2018
Bottas was out of luck last year
In what was surely the cruellest defeat of last season, Valtteri Bottas had victory snatched from him within a few laps of the chequered flag when he suffered a puncture due to debris.

It handed victory to his team mate – a 35-point swing which became crucial later in the season when Mercedes weighed up the need to issue team orders of their own.

Will he take back his lost win this weekend? He has good form at Baku if not great luck. He was in great shape in 2016 before a grid damaged his car in practice, and fought his way from the back of the field to second in 2017.

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Over to you

Who do you think will be the team to beat in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix? Have your say below.

And don’t forget to enter your predictions for this weekend’s race. You can edit your predictions until the start of qualifying:

2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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50 comments on “Will Ferrari tell Leclerc to follow Vettel again… again? Azerbaijan GP talking points”

  1. Is that going to be the headline before every gp or something? hahaha

    1. @arahman93 I’ll try to resist the temptation. I can’t speak for Ferrari, though…

    2. I’m half-expecting Ferrari to attempt the team order in Abu Dhabi, even if it is three races after one of their drivers seals the title and they are at opposite ends of the track at the time.

    3. +1 Keith can’t resist the (Brit) temptations.

  2. Why such a focus on Ferrari this year. Last year Mercedes stopped Bottas many times to pass Hamilton… Germany is a great example!

    1. By that point in season Bottas was was only 66 points behind Hamilton unlike Limping horses who have been issuing team orders to Leclerc every race since season opener and even after these team orders his over-glorified “world champion” teammate is 1 point ahead of Leclerc.

    2. @yllibeli

      You’re right! I clearly remember Mercedes giving 3 team orders in the first 3 races to make sure Hamilton finished in front of Bottas.

      1. @todfod That’s happened only once, though. In Bahrain in 2017.

        1. that was just 1 out of 3 and not 3 out of 3.

      2. @todfod: Next time try using the [irony] markup in your comments XDD

    3. Why such a focus on Ferrari this year

      Almost like issuing team orders every race of the season is completely different to when you do it over half way through against a driver out of the championship?

  3. One more talking point: will Ferrari be the fastest car again uptill FP3 and then suddenly be 3rd and 5th on sunday?

    1. GtisBetter (@)
      24th April 2019, 9:09

      With a high chance of safety cars and the need for fast decisions for a fluid strategy I wouldn’t be surprised.

      1. I’m really hoping for a Bottas vs Leclerc fight for the win this weekend. Bottas because he wants redemption from last year’s result, and Leclerc wants vindication for his Bahrain heartbreak, as well as, to cement himself as a championship contender within the team.

        Both drivers are strong at this track.. so it should be interesting.

        Hulk also needs to break his Baku jinx. He could have had a podium last year if he didn’t put it in the wall.

        1. I don’t know why it came as a reply to your comment, it was supposed to be separate.

        2. @todfod And the year before.

      2. fast decisions for a fluid strategy

        Oh God, Ferrari are going to somehow f it up and finish P5 and P6.

        1. @phylyp most probably yes. And that too because the midfield is too slow

        2. @phylyp But they will be fast on the straights ;)

          1. @melchior – ha ha. Not just fast. Faster than everyone!

      3. @passingisoverrated

        I was playing F1 2018 driving the Ferrari in Brazil, it started raining so i was called into the pits from leading the race. I was equipped with a brand new set of softs and sent on my way!!!

        DNA runs deep on this one . . .

  4. Will this be the weekend Vettel rediscovers his mojo? – No.
    Will Leclerc, with so much capacity to improve so early in his carer, continue to pile on the pressure? – Yes.
    Can he master a track he’s struggled with in the past and overcome his lousy 2019 luck in the same weekend? – Hopefully.

  5. I make this article approx 17th on the subject of Ferrari team orders, and that’s this week alone.
    I’m hoping Keith will tire [tyre?] soon and move on to other interests…

    1. He must be [exhaust]ed.

      1. @Shimks
        I see what you did there… very switched on.

    2. I make this article approx 17th on the subject of Ferrari team orders, and that’s this week alone.

      You’re out by 16; it’s the first and only so far this week.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if it comes up in the pre-race interviews on Thursday though.

      1. Thanks Keith
        … shows how far impressions can be from reality, I guess.

  6. Josh (@canadianjosh)
    24th April 2019, 10:10

    If it comes down to Vettel being in front of Leclerc and Charles is faster I can’t see how you”ll keep him behind given how long the straights are with DRS.

  7. There seems to be a growing wave of ASS, Anti Seb-atism Sentiment ,

    I read some threads before and he gets a right old kick in the teeth,

    Deserved ? Unfounded? I am not to judge, the standings at the end of season will tell the truth,

    Will this Anti-Seb-atism last the year?

    1. @greg-c – as someone who’s supported Seb for years, the fact that he’s been dropping the ball too often in these Ferrari years that’s frustrating. He’s done well in the past, so when it seems like he’s had a car to take the fight to Mercedes that Seb ends up frittering that away, it is frustrating. And that frustration comes through in my comments.

      I’m sure I’m not the only kind, however, there are Seb’s detractors who’ll chip in to say he’s always been overhyped.

      1. I’m not a Vettel fan, but i will forever remember seing his 2011 monaco pole lap when they had an “open bar” on DRS policy (loved it). That was brilliant lap. He was so much faster than the others at piscine that the cloud gasped.

        However I never found him to be an iresistible force (except during his 9 wins run, but the car was probably up there).Additionaly, one has to admit he is adding the errors up lately. And Leclerc is probably one of those guys we will be calling an irresistible force. So tall order.

        1. Wow! I overlooked that pole lap for so long. Absolutely savage! Thanks for bringing it up, @tango!

          1. Sorry about my typos though. Of course it’s crowd, not cloud, many words are botched (thanks French dictionary autocorrect)… But you get my point. It’s rare when you are trackside to really know who is fastest. Vettel was. Clearly. There must be quite a deep pool of talent in Vettel. Actually 2011 throws back to Hamilton (whom I support). He had a dreadful year compared to his standard that year. Let’s hope Vettel will sort it through as Hamilton has.

        2. @tango Indeed. Sometimes we forget how pristine the driver condition must be to deliver a solid campaign. Hamilton had his downs; now that he got his head together, he’s on course of breaking the records people assumed Vettel would.

          I believe Vettel is an irresistible force, when he’s at his best. The way he drove at 2011 and 2013 is something we could relate to Clark’s symbiosis with his Lotuses, yet no one questions Clark’s abilities or greatness (given the due proportions, ofc).

          Just like what Hamilton went through, he is at the bottom of his abyss where nothing gets right. And I firmly believe it has greatly to do with the pressure he puts himself to emulate his hero at his very venerated team. Must be tough to handle, mainly if we consider Ferrari has been the challenger, always trying to catch up.

          I won’t lie, he’s irritating me with his blunders. He drives so much better than that, and I’m deprived of a proper fight between two of the greats of all time because the guy can’t catch a break from his temper.

          But I guess that’s just the way it is.

    2. @greg-c So would ASS-kissing be a paradox?

    3. @greg-c Do you really think a British sports media outlet would favor their countryman protagonist over a moustached German and would use team favoritism as a point of contention? It seems far fetched..

      1. Keith is Australian :)

        1. He just lives in the UK

      2. Shock! Horror!

        F1 website has habit of writing positive articles about driver with 84 poles, 137 podiums, 75 wins and 5 WDCs in 232 starts!

        “Clearly a case of national bias to an undeserving driver.” said one very reasonable recent visitor to the site.

  8. In what was surely the cruellest defeat of last season, Valtteri Bottas had victory snatched from him within a few laps of the chequered flag

    Not sure if this was the cruellest defeat.
    Bottas’ defeat in Russia was crueller, and IMO even Verstappen’s loss in Brazil.

    1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      24th April 2019, 20:28


      Surely there is a significant difference? In Russia for Bottas and Brazil for Verstappen, they lost 1 position. Bottas went from being first to being classified 14th and in last position in Baku is quite different. Even if he had no luck to get him into first position, that still was a loss of 18 points. In Russia for Bottas, he lost 7 and same for Verstappen in Brazil. Not really comparable in terms of being one of the cruellest defeats of the season IMO. The outcome of it is why I think it is up there as the worst.

      1. To me, it’s crueller when you are deservedly number one (whole weekend for Bottas, and exceptional race by Verstappen) and then a lunatic on the pit wall or in another car takes your number 1 position away.
        But I guess we all define ‘cruel’ slightly different, @thegianthogweed.

        1. Absolutely annoyed by brazil, was a great race all the way, spoiled by ocon; in baku I don’t think bottas was the protagonist last year, it was vettel till the safety car, and overall across the weekend bottas barely did better than hamilton, if he even did.

          1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
            25th April 2019, 8:44

            Well hamilton did do better in qualifying and was better in the first stint, but then locked up and was no quicker than Bottas for the majority of the race. and given the gap and that Bottas will have been on significntly better tyres in the last stint, I think that down to Hamilton ruining his strategy, Bottas did ovrall do better in the race as he will have either just come out ahead or got past due to having the best tyres available.

            Although ocon clearly shouldn’t have done what he did in Brazil, Verstappen just looked like he was thinking he was going to take his usual line even tough it was clear Ocon will have been in the way. Verstappen had no right to have to move out the way, but he quite easily could have avoided that and just lost a second or two instead. We have seen plenty of other occations where lapped drivers are sometimes a bit quicker and have had a go, but if the lead drivers know they are fractionally slower, they often don’t defend in the way Verstappen did. It was a bit pointless what Verstappen did IMO. But I still blame Ocon and he deserved the penalty. But for Verstappen, it was avoidable.

  9. I don’t understand why people talk about Bottas like he was dominating the GP before the tire failure. It was Ferrari and Vettel dominating the GP with a large margin until the RBR crashed at the perfect time for Bottas to make his pit stop. If you look at the lap times and gaps, Bottas was heading for a 3rd place finish.

    1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      24th April 2019, 20:48

      On this page, where are you reading the talk as if he was dominating the race? I don’t see that anywhere and i don’t think people ever have. it was pretty clear that Vettel was going to win, but very unlikely dominate it by the end. I find it strange even saying Vettel was dominating it. Bottas had set fastest lap on really old tyres with vettel and Hamilton out on new tyres. Even if they were not great tyres, the fact is, neither looked great on them and Bottas will have been far quicker on the tyres he was due to put on later. He likely would have closed the gap to vettel enough to say that Vettel hadn’t dominated it.

      I am certain he would have either come out ahead of Hamilton or very soon got past. His pit stop time was pretty much exactly 20 seconds. Which was about the exact gap Hamilton was behind him over most of the recent laps. If Mercedes hadn’t rushed to get things ready for a safety car pit stop (which Bottas had to slow down for), they may have managed a slightly quicker one and jumped Hamilton anyway. Anyhow, Bottas will have had a huge tyre advantage and almost certainly would have got past Hamilton within a lap or two. 2nd was the obvious position that Bottas would have got with no luck involved I’d say.

  10. Ferrari has shown they will do whatever is necessary to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

  11. Yes, they will have teams orders. Vettel is nr 1. But the Ferrari’s are that fast that they probably end fourth and fifth, because of chaos. At some moment the team does’t know were the cars are, make a couple of bad decisions, ask Vettel to spin once for the sponsors and tell Leclerc to slow down because he is making a fool out of Vettel.

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